Foreign ownership: Sales of Kiwi land quadruple in a year




The purchase of New Zealand land by overseas buyers is at an all time high and reports in the Guardian, Forbes, New Yorker tell us we're in for a tsunami of wealthy investors wanting a property in New Zealand.

Concerns are being raised by locals after the area of land bought by foreign buyers last year almost quintupled from the previous year.
Source: Q+A

But there's growing resistance to the big buy up, particularly in Central Otago. 

In 2016, foreign buyers bought 465,863 hectares of New Zealand land, nearly five times more than the previous year. 

Lawyer Graeme Todd is a man who has helped facilitate these sales.

He's dealing with a surge of interest in buying properties in the area, with lots of properties in the vicinity already owned by foreigners from Hong Kong, Israel, and the United States. 

Mr Todd warns them early in the proceedings that if they're after exclusive possession, they're not going to be able to buy land here. 

Rights of access

New Zealanders early on established their rights as trampers, hunters, and fishers to access the great outdoors after checking in with the farmer or leaseholder, and this is reflected in some of our legislation.

Alpine adventurer Erik Bradshaw says it's still the case today with most Kiwi farmers, but not in the iconic Hunter Valley Station, owned by US television host Matt Lauer. 

Mr Lauer did not agree to an easement through his property into the massive Hawea Conservation Area. 

"There's a general perception that there's a dereliction of duty on the part of the government, and they have to uphold the values of New Zealanders and manage New Zealand's wilderness and properties in our best interest and they've failed to do that," said Mr Bradshaw. 

Shrouded negotiations

Locals and groups like Fish and Game are concerned about secrecy around the sales. 

Under the Overseas Investment Act, the needs of several statutory organisations representing New Zealanders have to be considered. 

"Fish and Game is never consulted, DOC is never consulted, and neither is Heritage New Zealand," said Fish and Game's Bryce Johnson. 

He said his organisation has talked to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) about being consulted but no action has been taken. 

Mr Johnson said the OIO's advice is that it's up to the foreign buyer to assess the sensitivity of the land and contact the interest groups. 

"Which is crazy, the buyer is fundamentally conflicted," he said. 

Foreign ownership register 

In 2010, when Prime Minister Bill English was Finance Minister, he issued a directive to the OIO about the conditions imposed on prospective buyers to make it as convenient and as cheap as possible for investors. 

The Government rejected New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' bill calling for a register to map the extent of overseas owners. 

"They want to keep the public in the dark, there can be no other reason," said Mr Peters. 

"Other countries have a register, why wouldn't we?"

Divided community 

To some of the locals in Central Otago, the right to explore the great outdoors is tied into their Kiwi identity. 

"We have to defend that very fundamental status and value of access to the outdoors. It's about what it means to be a Kiwi and that's being eroded," Fish and Game's Bryce Johnson said.

"We can all stand at Lake Hawea and look at the view, but if we know we can't go there and enjoy it, there's no freedom for us," alpine adventurer Erik Bradshaw said.

But not all locals agree. 

"I look at the landscape, not at the ownership. The land's not going anywhere," Mr Todd said. 

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